INDIANA — Although she has multiple roles, new Indiana Secretary of State Holli Sullivan said her top priority in this office is maintaining what she said is Indiana’s stellar reputation with election integrity, security and transparency.
That’s why Sullivan, who took office in March, has embarked on a 92-county listening tour to find out what clerks and election officials in each area need to be successful and for the midterm and municipal elections in 2020. Next week, she’s visiting Clark and Floyd counties in Southern Indiana.
Last year’s hotly contested presidential election, under the shadow of the pandemic, drove Indiana voters out in numbers not seen since 1992. Protections around COVID-19 also meant record numbers of early votes across the state, including in Southern Indiana.
Sullivan said one of her most important jobs is to partner with local officials to help get the message out to voters to “increase voter confidence so that we can continue that voter momentum that we saw in 2020 around unprecedented numbers. We would lose that momentum if they weren’t confident in our elections process.”
Sullivan said that while she feels Indiana voters were confident in the process last year overall, there’s been a lot of talk and news of changes in other states that that don’t have the same election processes as Indiana, that she doesn’t want to affect that confidence.
“So there’s a lot either mixed messages or just noise coming to Hoosiers,” she said. “And I want to partner with local election officials to ensure that voters are knowledgable of the Indiana process and are therefore confident to show up again to vote in 2022.”
She said some of the uncertainty may come from other states making election code changes or general overhauls of their systems — either due to the pandemic or just necessary updates.
“We are not doing that in the state of Indiana,” she said. “We’ve had a pretty steady hand on the wheel for many years and the way in which we pass election law is more strategic and long-term than maybe a knee-jerk reaction you’ve seen from other states post 2020.”
For example, she said, Indiana has had voter ID laws for 15 years. Sullivan also touted the strong relationship with Ball State University to certify election equipment before it gets to the individual counties, then providing support once the equipment is there to maintain certification.
Indiana also had cyber security before the 2020 election, while some states are working to implement it now. She said the best way to help Indiana residents continue to trust their elections is to know how they operate — which is what Sullivan is promoting.
“When you hear that much about elections in other states, it may have created seeds of doubt,” she said. “Hoosiers are asking questions they want to know the process. I think that knowledge is power, that knowledge is a confidence-builder and that’s my job to continue to message so Hoosiers will understand the processes.”
“Right now and no election in 2021 allows us to be able to have those conversations.”
Sullivan also wants to help support existing and future businesses throughout the state — how better to do that will be part of the information she gathers this year.
One branch of her office is the Business Services Division, which includes hosting the INBiz online portal, the place where every business in the state starts. There are now 70 resources on the website, but she wants to increase that, along with getting more counties local information there.
She also wants to cut the red tape involved with processes “so that Indiana remains the best state to do business,” she said. This includes streamlining permitting processes at the county and state level, especially for those seeking to register as a minority, women and veteran-owned operations.
“While it’s very easy to start a business in Indiana, it’s not as easy to get certified as a minority-, women- and veteran-owned business,” she said. “That’s more of a cumbersome process and we can streamline that.”
She wants to learn from businesses to find out “what we can do to assist them instead of get in their way,” she said. It also helps when the companies and municipalities are seeking to diversify their suppliers and contractors, she said.
She also takes note of the extra hardships and challenges the pandemic has created for businesses of all sizes.
“No matter if they have two employees or 1,000 employees, it’s hard to maneuver through the issues of workforce and different financial stresses that have been placed on business owners,” she said. “I believe there are more challenges every day right now. its not easy to own a business right now anywhere in the U.S., probably globally but particularly with my role I can create an environment where we can remove obstacles for businesses as we find out what those are.”